Synaptics’ Potential On Full Display At CES 2022

By Patrick Moorhead - January 31, 2022
Enabling Exceptional Experiences By Re-Imaging How Humans Engage With Machines And Data SYNAPTICS

While the world has changed a lot over the last couple years, the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) remains a reliable, must tune-in event for tech analysts and enthusiasts worldwide. After so many industry events forced to go virtual during the pandemic (including CES 2021), I was thrilled to be able to attend CES 2022 live and in-person. Especially in the realm of consumer electronics, virtual demonstrations simply cannot replicate the experience of being there in the room, seeing the latest gadgets up close and personal.  

As per usual, CES 2022 featured many of the big name companies you’d expect from a long-running show of its size and popularity, along with twice as many you’ve never heard of. 

Today I’d like to begin my coverage with the CES news from Synaptics. Historically known for its biometric interface IP for PCs (trackpads, fingerprint sensors, etc.), the company’s scope has expanded to include mobile, IoT, automotive, edge AI and more. It’s this new, bold Synaptics that has captured my attention in the last several years, as it executes on its vision of reimagining how humans engage with machines and data across the board. Let’s dive in.

Highlighting leadership across sectors

The company’s briefing at the show began with an update on the company’s business transformation under CEO Michael Hurlston who took the helm in 2019. Through a series of mergers, acquisitions, partnerships and organic investments, Synaptics has significantly broadened and differentiated its IP portfolio. 

Synaptics now divides its portfolio into three subgroups: HMI (human interface), IoT (connectivity and Edge AI. HMI encompasses solutions like touch sensing, biometrics, voice processing and display drivers—Synaptics’ historical purview. Meanwhile, the company’s IoT connectivity solutions include universal docks and adapters, Wi-Fi & Bluetooth, GPS and video interfaces. As far as edge AI goes, Synaptics now plays in audio and video processing, as well as computer vision. Notably, the company’s offerings leverage open AI toolkits that support industry standard frameworks.

Expanding Into New Markets SYNAPTICS

Synaptics has also, under the leadership of Hurlston, improved growth and profit across market segments, bouncing back after a period of stagnation in the 2010s in which the company struggled with its operating margins. The company now claims an estimated 8-10% CAGR. It still rules the roost in PC & mobile devices, with more than a 50% share in the PC OEM touchpad, biometrics and docking markets. Beyond its core markets, the company also claims technology leadership in Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, GPS and combination chips for IoT smart devices, along with performance and power leadership in Edge AI and Video SoCs for the emerging IoT smart spaces market.

The company is also in great position in the automotive market, with its integrated touch and display drivers scoring wins in in-vehicle infotainment systems and display consoles. If the proof is in the pudding, over 45 automotive platforms now leverage Synaptics technology. It helps, of course, that Synaptics is a longtime innovator in display technology, making it a natural choice for automakers as they build the infotainment systems for their increasingly sophisticated vehicles. 

Synaptics’ broad portfolio is worth diving deep on, but I’ll limit the scope of this article to the specific technologies showcased at CES 2022. While not an exhaustive drilldown, it should provide an idea of where the company is currently devoting its time, energy and investments. 

What’s new at CES 2022?

Synaptics unveiled an impressive new chip that combines three radios-: Wi-Fi 6/6E, Bluetooth 5.2 and a third that supports Matter (the smart home interoperability protocol designed by Apple, Samsung, Amazon, Google and others) with Thread/Zigbee. Aptly called Triple Combo, the solution promises to deliver “seamless connectivity” between devices in the home, enabling devices from disparate vendors to communicate with each other, create a mesh network and consolidate into a single control (a smartphone or hub, e.g.). These silos are one of the big headaches of the smart home market as it currently exists, with many different devices running on separate protocols, requiring multiple apps and control hubs. From what I’ve seen, Triple Combo could go a long way to alleviate this issue. This is the direction technology markets typically go—proprietary standards give way as companies realize the importance of their products all working together. The support for Matter is huge.

Heralded as “a beginning of a new PC era,” Synaptics also announced the industry’s first true wireless docking solution. Stemming from its acquisitions of DisplayLink and Broadcom’s wireless business, the solution promises universal, true wireless docking via Wi-Fi 6, secure connect-on-approach and support for dual-4K displays. Wireless docking is something that has been attempted by others before, but Synaptics says that it will be the first to bring a solution to market. This is a great example of an advantage companies like Synaptics get from diversifying and broadening their portfolios. They have a wealth of IP to mix and match to create truly differentiated, end-to-end solutions. 

On a similar note, Synaptics highlighted its new Spyder family of DisplayPort/HDMI 2.1-to-USB Type-C video protocol converters, which the company says will seamlessly connect to and drive 4K 120/14 Hz gaming monitors and 8K/10K UHD displays. 

Gains in connectivity and Edge AI aside, Synaptics has not taken its eye off the ball in the PC sector. S9AOH, a new SoC from Synaptics purports to enable larger, more intelligent, highly secure haptic touchpads. The SoC marks the first NIST SP800-193-compliant solution for PC-makers and is purportedly scalable to larger touch sensor capabilities. In Mobile, another legacy area of Synaptics leadership, the company also shared a new solution it calls Sensor Fusion. Effectively, this smart sensor consolidates capacitive, inductive and Hall effect sensors that support swiping, tapping, and other biometric interfacing techniques, all on one chip.

Wrapping up

Much as Synaptics made itself indispensable to PC OEMs back in the day as the go-to provider of biometrics, the company appears well on its way to securing its niche position in tomorrow’s most exciting technologies. I believe the wise investments the company has made (and continues to make) in human machine interfacing, IoT connectivity and Edge AI technology will pay off for Synaptics, from the connected workplace to the smart home, to the touch console of the self-driving car. The key is to do it so well that your customers don’t decide to develop their own analogous solutions or turn to cheaper knockoffs. If anyone can do it, I believe it’s Synaptics. 

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article. 

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.